I’ve never run a half-marathon before, and in doing the Detroit/Windsor today I learned some things:
Train. OK, so the notion that my natural level of fitness was sufficient to allow me to finish a half-marathon without specifically training for it proved true. That didn’t make the last couple of miles fun, which they were not. If you saw the 2008 Olympics and watched Sanya Richards basically hit a wall about 75 meters before the finish, then you know what I mean. I saw her face, and her shoulders, and said “Ooh” for the full length of an exhaled breath. The friends I was watching with, none of whom were runners, asked why. I told them she was done, and at about mile 11 in this race I was too. Richards is tough, and even with a cramped hamstring still managed a bronze medal — all I managed was to not stop running.
Eat. I did, but not enough, and after doing some reading on the phenomenon of slogging through rapidly setting concrete I’m pretty sure that happened because I ran out of fuel. Glycogen in the muscles, glucose in the brain. Because of a minor illness, I had only about 500 (liquid) calories total on Thursday and didn’t eat normal amounts on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday. Bad timing — for the last mile I was actively hungry, and in discomfort from it. Since I’m usually not hungry for an hour or more after a run, and certainly not during, this was probably bad. The technical term endurance athletes have for what happened to me is “bonking” (a.k.a. “hitting the wall”). If you’ve never experienced it, here’s a standardized test X is to Y as Z is to ?? solved for you: Bonking is to getting tired and wishing the run was over as a paper cut is to slamming your hand in the door of an armored HumVee. Hard.
Pace. My friend Dave and I went out fast. (For us. Rest assured, the elite runners weren’t worried.) It felt great, and was great for the first 10 miles. Then Dave dropped back, and I kept on, still feeling fine. And about 1.5 miles later (see above) Dave had found the right pace and I hadn’t and he passed me and I said see you at the finish line and that was that. I still surpassed my fairly modest time goal, but if I’d run a little smarter I could have shaved at least a couple more minutes off.
Enjoy. Sunrise on the Ambassador Bridge was beautiful. Running through the pre-dawn streets of Detroit was fun. A tour of Windsor’s waterfront was a treat. Running a mile underwater (we took the tunnel back into the U.S.) was cool and weird, even though it took us away from the beautiful weather and friendly spectators. It’s a great course, and I look forward to trying it again. After I train and eat and find a smarter pace.